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1. An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word which stands for the whole word.

Av      Avenue


A contraction is a special kind of abbreviation which starts and ends with the same letters as the full word.

Ave      Avenue


2. punctuation of abbreviations

Rules for punctuating abbreviations have varied over the years. Today there are a number of different but acceptable ways of abbreviating words. The most common pattern in Australia at present is as follows:

2.1. Abbreviations beginning with capitals do not have a full stop.

Mon (Monday)

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Dr (Doctor)

ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)


2.2. Abbreviations beginning with a lower-case letter do have a full stop, unless they are also contractions, in which case they do not.

cont. (continued) k.p.h. (kilometres per hour) (abbreviations)

vb (verb) (contraction)


2.3. Certain groups of words are regarded as special cases:

Symbols for units of measurement and chemical elements do not have full stops.

km (kilometre)

ha (hectare)

Fe (iron)

Ca (calcium)


Acronyms do not have full stops.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps)


See acronyms.

2.4. The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. may also be written am and pm.

2.5. It is now customary not to use any punctuation marks in addresses on envelopes, parcels, etc.

abstract nouns

See nouns 2.1.

accusative case

See case 2.


1. An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words, and pronounced in terms of the sound of these letters, for example ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps).

A similar formation which is pronounced in terms of the names of the letters is not strictly an acronym, for example AFL (Australian Football League). These abbreviations are sometimes called initialisms.

2. Acronyms tend to start out with capital letters which are then reduced to lower-case letters as the acronym becomes accepted as a word in its own right and people cease to analyse it into the separate words it stands for, for example scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).

However, if there is the possibility of confusion with some other word that is spelt the same way, they remain capitalised. So AIDS retains its capitalised status, so as not to be confused with aids.

Note that acronyms do not have full stops.


See verbs 7.

adjectival clauses

An adjectival clause is one which performs the function of an adjective.

The old man fell down. (adjective)

 The man, who was very old, fell down. (adjectival clause)


See clauses 2.3.

adjectival phrases

See phrases 1.


1. An adjective is a word which describes or adds meaning to a noun or pronoun. It may appear in a sentence either before or after the noun or pronoun it modifies.

A long snake appeared.

The snake was long.

It was frightening to us all.


Nevertheless there are some adjectives which are usually only found after their nouns.

bargains galore

president elect


There are other adjectives which usually follow a verb or are limited to particular contexts. You can say

The child was asleep.



Asleep, the child looked angelic.


but not

an asleep child


Instead you could say

a sleeping child


2. comparisons

Adjectives change form when they are used to show how two or more things compare with each other. Those with only one syllable usually add the suffixes -er (when only two things are involved) or -est (when more than two things are involved).

Helen is quick. She is quicker than Nick.

She is the quickest member of the team.


Adjectives with more than one syllable usually have more placed before them when only two things are involved or most placed before them when more than two things are involved.



more beautiful


most beautiful


Exceptions to this are adjectives of two syllables ending in -y, -le and -ow.

happy   happier   happiest


simple   simpler   simplest


shallow   shallower   shallowest


Adjectives with -er, or more, like quicker and more beautiful are said to be in the comparative degree.

Adjectives with -est and most, like quickest and most beautiful, are said to be in the superlative degree.


See degrees of comparison.


3. absolute adjectives

3.1. Adjectives which are used as nouns are sometimes called absolute adjectives.

The poor are always with us.


3.2. Adjectives which describe qualities which cannot logically be compared, are also sometimes called absolute adjectives. They can logically have no degree but the positive. For example, one cannot be more first in a race, so first is an absolute adjective. If unique means ‘one and only’, one cannot have anything more unique.

In practice, some of these absolute adjectives do take degrees of comparison as a way of emphasis.

This is a most unique occasion.


4. interrogative and demonstrative adjectives

4.1. When which and what are at the beginning of a sentence and the noun they refer to is stated in the same phrase, they function as adjectives. They help make the sentence into a question and are called interrogative adjectives.

Which boat will we take?

What mark did you get in the test?


Similarly, whose, the possessive case of the interrogative pronoun who, can function as an interrogative adjective.

Whose coat are you wearing?


4.2. When the nouns to which this or these and that or those refer are stated in the same phrase, these words function as demonstrative adjectives. This and these point to a thing or things close at hand, while that and those point to a thing or things further away. They are unusual adjectives in English in that they change their form depending on whether the noun to which they refer is singular or plural.

This hat is mine. (singular)

These lovely jewels were a gift. (plural)

That green house is the one. (singular)

Look out for those puddles ahead. (plural)


See determiners.

adverbial clauses

An adverbial clause is one which performs the function of an adverb.

The boat rocked dangerously. (adverb)

The boat rocked when the sea was rough. (adverbial clause)


See clauses 2.1.

adverbial phrases

See phrases 1.


1. An adverb is a word which modifies, or tells us something extra about, a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. It may come before or after the word it modifies.

He ran quickly. (The adverb modifies the verb ran.)

She was really pretty. (The adverb modifies the adjective pretty.)

He’ll come very soon. (The adverb modifies the adverb soon.)


2. Many adverbs end in -ly, like quickly and really above. But some of the most common adverbs, like soon, do not. Adverbs like soon, which are without the -ly suffix, can be called flat adverbs.

Come now!

She sang well.


Because they don’t have the -ly ending, flat adverbs can look like adjectives. This can lead people to use an adjective when they should be using an adverb.

He hit him hard. (Correct – hard is a flat adverb.)

She was running very good. (Incorrect – good is an adjective used instead of an adverb.)

She was running very well. (Correct – well is a flat adverb.)


3. Adverbs can be named by the sort of extra meaning they bring to a sentence.

She plays the piano well. (In this sentence well tells us how she plays – adverb of manner.)

She practises frequently. (In this sentence frequently tells us when she practises – adverb of time.)

She plays locally. (In this sentence locally tells us where she plays – adverb of place.)


3.1. interrogative adverbs

These play a part in making a sentence a question.

How did you get here? (In this sentence how is an interrogative adverb of manner.)

When did you arrive? (In this sentence when is an interrogative adverb of time.)

Where did you come from? (In this sentence where is an interrogative adverb of place.)

Why did you come? (In this sentence why is an interrogative adverb of reason.)


3.2. negative adverbs

These play a part in making a negative statement.

She must not go.

They can never succeed.

He can no more sing than I can fly.


See double negatives.


4. Adverbs change form when used in comparing two or more things. Those with only one syllable usually add the suffix -er when two things are involved, or -est when more than two are involved.

Nick arrived sooner than Helen.

Among all the girls, she sang (the) loudest.


Those with two or more syllables usually have more placed before them when only two things are involved, or most when more than two things are involved.

Nick came up the stairs more quickly than Helen.

 Among all the girls, she sang (the) most tunefully.


There are a few exceptions to this pattern. For example early becomes earlier and earliest, not more early and most early.


Adverbs with -er and more are said to be in the comparative degree.

Those with -est and most are said to be in the superlative degree.


See degrees of comparison.


Many words, especially longer ones, can be thought of as having been built up by adding word elements to a meaningful basic word which is called the root.

love     digest

lov-ing      digest-ed

un-lov-ing      un-pre-digest-ed

Here love and digest are the two root words.

The word elements which can be added are all called affixes. Usually they are meaningless, or almost meaningless, by themselves, as, for example, -ing, -ed, un-, etc.

Those which come before the root word, like un- and pre- are called prefixes. Those which come after it, like -ed and -ing, are called suffixes. The addition of suffixes to a root word may mean that its spelling changes.

travel traveller

(the l is doubled)

argue arguable

(the e is dropped)


See doubling the final consonant; ‘e’ at the end of a word 2.

agreement in grammar

Grammatical agreement is a correspondence, or a linking between two or more words in a text with reference to some grammatical feature, such as number, person, gender, etc. It is most easily seen in English in the verbs and pronouns.

1. verb and subject

A verb in a sentence or clause agrees with its subject in number and person. That is, the number and person of the subject determine the number and person of the verb. So, in the sentence He walks to work, since the subject of the verb, he, is in the third person and singular, the verb, walks, is also in the third person and singular.

2. verb form

Sometimes the number and person of the verb is reflected in its particular form.

I am (The form am can only ever be first person singular and can only follow I.)

she has (The form has can only ever be third person singular and can only follow a subject which is third person singular.)


But this sort of thing happens much less frequently in English than in other European languages and most commonly the English verb does not change in form as it changes in number and person with its different subjects.

I ran (first person singular)

she ran (third person singular)

you ran (second person singular and plural)


3. verb and complex subject

When the subject of a sentence or clause has a number of words in it, care is needed to ensure that the verb agrees correctly.

3.1. If two or more main items in the subject are linked with and, or if it is otherwise clear that two or more main items have performed the action of the verb then the verb must be plural.

Nick and Helen are hiding somewhere nearby.


Similarly, if it is clear that two or more main items had the action performed on them, the verb must be plural.

Nick and Helen were chased up the street.


If it is clear that of the two or more main items, only one has performed the action (or had it performed on it) then the verb must be singular.

Nick or Helen needs to stay home (but not both of them).


3.2. Some words, like every, deal with numbers of items by implication but direct our attention to them one at a time. Subjects involving them may take singular verbs.

Every member of the team is to be given a new uniform.


The words each, either, neither and none provide some difficulty. Logically they are referring to a single instance, or in the case of none not even that. In our most careful writing it may seem best to give them singular verbs.

Either Nick or Helen has painted that picture.

Neither Nick nor Helen is to blame.

None of them runs faster than me.


The difficulty is that many people use them with plural verbs and often, though not always, this plural use seems acceptable. There is no rule of thumb to apply.

Either Nick or Helen have painted that picture.

Neither Nick nor Helen are to blame.

None of them run faster than me.


4. pronouns

In general, a pronoun agrees with the noun to which it refers.


4.1. personal pronouns

Personal pronouns show agreement with their nouns in person, number and, sometimes, gender.

Helen came into the room. She looked beautiful.


In this example, the pronoun she is in the third person, is singular in number and feminine in gender because the noun to which it refers, Helen, has these grammatical features too.

Note that she, he, and it are the only pronouns to indicate gender in their forms. We, they, you, etc., can refer to masculine or feminine nouns, or nouns implying mixed gender, like group.


4.2. other pronouns

Other pronouns do not change their form with person.

I, who will lead you, must be strong.

You, who will lead us, must be strong.


4.3. Only this and that change their form with number.

This is the car I was looking at.

These are the cars I was looking at.



See clauses 2.3; pronouns 5.


An antonym is a word which has an opposite meaning to another word:

Some examples of antonyms are:

quick and slow

hot and cold

dead and alive

buy and sell


Although they mean the opposite, antonyms always have a common element shared between them such as:

speed     quick / slow

temperature    hot / cold

life    dead / alive

exchange of goods    buy / sell


Antonyms contrast with synonyms.


See verbs 10.

auxiliary verbs

See verbs 2.2.



The verb be has more variant parts than any other verb in English.

Present Tense              Past Tense

I am                              I was

you are                        you were

he / she / it is               he / she / it was

we are                          we were

they are                       they were


Present participle



Past participle



Many parts of this verb form contractions in the usual way with not:

is not isn’t

were not weren’t

are not aren’t

was not wasn’t


However am behaves differently. It is the verb am rather than not which is abbreviated when you say I’m not rather than I amn’t, which is incorrect. In the interrogative you may either say am I not? or, more commonly, aren’t I?

capital letters

1. Each letter of the alphabet can be written in different ways depending on the form of handwriting used or the different typeface or font chosen. Nevertheless all the varieties can be seen as falling into just two major categories – the big letters (capital letters) and the small. These may also be called respectively the upper-case and lower-case letters.

Sometimes, the capital letter is just a bigger version of the small letter, as with O and o. Sometimes the capital letter and the small letter are quite different, as with B and b.

2. The titles of books, films, etc., can be in capital letters throughout, as can some usually shortish advertisements and headlines in newspapers, but texts of any kind which are of more significant length, are typically in lower-case letters with capitals reserved for the first letters only of the first word of each sentence and of particular words, usually names. The following names are usually capitalised.

people                       Alice Jackson

institutions                 Commonwealth Bank

titles                          Lady Veronica Hardcastle

degrees                    Professor Jones PhD

places                       Darwin

natural features        Great Barrier Reef

nations                     France

peoples                    Inuit

languages                French

established religions    Christianity

their followers           Hindus

significant periods    Middle Ages

events                      Olympic Games

special days             Christmas Day

festivals                    Ramadan


3. The capital letter is often dropped when a reference is made back to a shortened version of a capitalised phrase, but only when that shortened version is a common noun and not a proper noun:

We came to the Darling River. The river was low – the Darling often is.


Note that when the accompanies a proper noun or a title, the is usually not capitalised:

the Murray River

the Middle Ages


Nouns and pronouns can be said to have one variety or other of case depending on the type of relationship they have with other words in the sentence or phrase where they are found.

1. subjective case

A noun or pronoun which does the action which the related verb in the same sentence or clause describes, is said to be in the subjective case. That is, the noun or pronoun is the subject of the verb.

The water is falling. (In this sentence water is the subject of is falling.)

She was singing a song which we all liked. (In this sentence She is the subject of was singing and we is the subject of liked.)


The subjective case is sometimes called the nominative case. See subject.


2. objective case

2.1. A noun or pronoun which ‘receives’ the action which the related verb in the same sentence or clause describes, is said to be in the objective case. That is, the noun or pronoun is the object of the verb.

The car hit the water. (In this sentence water is the object of hit.)

The song pleased her. (In this sentence her is the object of pleased.)


2.2. A noun or pronoun which follows a preposition to which it is logically linked, is also said to be in the objective case. That is, the noun or pronoun is the object of the preposition.

between the first and second songs (In this phrase songs is the object of the preposition between.)

He sang for her. (In this sentence her is the object of the preposition for.)


The objective case is sometimes called the accusative case. See object 1; prepositions.


3. possessive case

A noun or pronoun which implies ownership, is said to be in the possessive case. It may be in a phrase, clause or sentence.

the water’s force

Her song went round the world.


The possessive case is sometimes called the genitive case.


4. dative case

This categorisation is rarely used in English grammar, being more commonly reserved for discussion of foreign languages. Nevertheless, all indirect objects are in the dative case and they are quite common in English.

The sun gave the water a red colour. (The sun gave a red colour to the water.)

The song gives her much pleasure. (The song gives much pleasure to her.)


See object 2.


5. pronouns

English personal pronouns often change form with case.

I like Helen. (I is in the subjective case)

Helen likes me. (me is in the objective case)

Helen likes my hat. (my is in the possessive case)

Helen said ‘The hat is mine.’ (mine is in the possessive case)

Helen made me a hat. (me is in the dative case – Helen made a hat for me.)


English nouns change form with case only for the possessive.

The dog likes Helen. (dog is in the subjective case)

Helen likes the dog. (dog is in the objective case)

Helen gave the dog a bone. (dog is in the dative case)

The dog’s bone is small. (dog’s is in the possessive case)


Note that some grammarians regard a word as having case only if its form changes, which only happens with pronouns in English. However, case can be used to refer to the relationships between the words in a sentence whether or not the forms of the words change.


A clause is a group of words containing a finite verb (see verbs 3.1).There are two main types.

1. principal clauses / main clauses

A principal clause can generally stand by itself as a complete sentence or message.

I enjoy my work.

The meeting was adjourned.


There may be two or more principal clauses joined together, in which case they are often called coordinate clauses. They must be joined by a conjunction, such as and, but, or or.

The letters are typed and the files are in order.

I have finished the research but have not written the report.


(Note that in the second example the subject I is understood in the second clause.)


2. subordinate clauses / dependent clauses

A subordinate clause is a component of the sentence, but it cannot stand alone as a sentence.

I arrived before the bank opened.

She told me that he needed an operation.


Before the bank opened is not a complete sentence. It needs something else (I arrived) to make it complete. In the second example, that he needed an operation is similarly incomplete, needing She told me to make a sentence.

Subordinate clauses can often be replaced by a single word or phrase, although usually with loss of detail. The last two sentences might become:

I arrived early. (an adverb)

She told me the news. (a noun)


Subordinate clauses can be given names related to the type of the single word which might replace them – that is to say, according to the sort of grammatical function they perform.


2.1. adverbial clauses

An adverbial clause is one which performs the function of an adverb and can be thought to answer questions like ‘when?’, ‘where?’, ‘how?’ and ‘why?’.

I arrived before the bank opened. (This answers the question

when? and is an adverbial clause of time.)

Helen went where she wouldn’t be disturbed. (This answers the question where? and is an adverbial clause of place.)

As quickly as he could, Nick hid the biscuits. (This answers the question how? and is an adverbial clause of manner.)

The car skidded because the road was covered with ice. (This answers the question why? and is an adverbial clause of reason.)


2.2. noun clauses

A noun clause is one which performs the function of a noun acting as a subject or object. It may indicate what is said, felt, or thought. Often a noun clause begins with the subordinating conjunction ‘that’ (but this can often be omitted), or with some other subordinating conjunction like ‘what’, ‘which’, ‘who’, etc.

That he needed an operation was news to me.

She told me (that) he needed an operation.

I soon learned what I should do.

Nick knew who was behind all the trouble.


2.3. adjectival clauses / relative clauses

An adjectival clause performs the function of an adjective. It adds meaning to a noun or pronoun which usually comes before it and which is called the antecedent. Very often the adjectival clause begins with one of the relative pronouns, who, whom, whose, which or that.

The car (which) he had bought us was green. (In this sentence the antecedent is car.)

The farmer, whose crop was wheat, went bankrupt. (In this sentence the antecedent is farmer.)

The team that came last in the competition were not pleased. (In this sentence the antecedent is team.)


Note that which and that can often be omitted if they are not the subjects of the verb in the adjectival clause. In the first of the above set of examples, the subject of the verb in the adjectival clause is he, not which. However, in the last example, the subject of the adjectival clause’s verb is that and so cannot be omitted. See pronouns 5.

collective nouns

See nouns 4.


Colloquialisms are words and phrases which most commonly suggest a relaxed and easy attitude to things. They may be humorous in tone, disrespectful, or even offensive, but they all share the quality of being inappropriate for use in serious or formal situations. Most of us make much use of them in our everyday conversations and when communicating with friends but not in our business correspondence or any situation which calls for a dignified approach.

It was a fiasco – a real shemozzle.

Just nip round to the shop will you – I need a barbecued chook.

If she doesn’t get home soon there will be hell to pay.


While some words, like shemozzle and chook, are always colloquial, others are colloquial only in particular senses or in particular phrases. In their other senses or in other phrases they may have no colloquial overtone at all. For example, in a religious context hell may have serious overtones indeed, but here the reference to consequences to come is merely humorous.


A command is an order to someone to do something.

Bring the car around the back.

In commands, the exclamation mark is reserved for those which are emphatic or curt.

Quick march!

Get out!

But it is withheld from those intended to guide or instruct the reader.

Place the meat on a well-greased baking dish.


Verbs used in commands are said to be in the imperative mood. See verbs 11.2.

common nouns

See nouns 1.1.


A compound is a term made up of two or more parts. Compounds can be one solid word, hyphenated or open (written with a space).

childbirth     surfboard     paperback (solid)

old-fashioned     son-in-law     blue-tongue (hyphenated)

bush dance     lead pencil     red cedar (open)


In some compounds, such as the following, the hyphen regularly occurs.

all-embracing     go-ahead     mother-in-law

owner-operator     passer-by     thirty-five


However, this is not true of other compounds, especially certain noun compounds. Many of these started off as simple noun phrases, stressed on the second element, such as commonly occur.

a blue cár     a black dóg     a gold brácelet

Among these, each word contributes its own usual meaning. The car in ‘a blue car’ is indeed ‘blue’, and so on.

Such a phrase is sometimes one we need to repeat often. Sometimes we feel it represents a type of thing rather than a single instance. In these cases it goes on to become a true compound, and two things happen.

The stress tends to move to the first element and the meaning of one or other component tends to fade.

a bláckberry     a góldfish


A blackberry can be red when unripe; a goldfish can be black.

This sort of movement from phrase to compound takes time to happen and in many cases is not complete and perhaps never will be. In a sense, the way we write the words represents stages in the movement.

black berry     black-berry     blackberry


Regardless of how we write them, these are true compounds if in our speech we put the stress on the first element; but what we choose to write may be determined by an established community reference, or, where this is not known, by how we individually respond. So blue gum, blue-gum and bluegum are all ‘correct’, even if the first one is the common preference and the others represent less common preferences.

On the whole, long-established compounds of this type are more likely to be hyphenated or written as one word. However, the more syllables a compound has, the less likely it is to be ever written as one word – cable television, soda water.

concrete nouns

See nouns 2.2.

conditional clauses

A conditional clause is an adverbial clause introduced by certain conjunctions such as if and unless. It expresses what may happen if certain conditions are true.

If it rains, the barbecue’s off.

You can’t drive unless you’ve got a licence.


In some languages, the form of the verb changes to express this. The only conditional form in modern English is were. It can be used after if (and unless) or instead of if:

If it were to rain . . .

Were it to rain . . .


The conditional clause If I were you is still preferred by some speakers to If I was you.


A conjunction is a word which joins words, phrases, clauses, sentences, etc., together.

1. A coordinating conjunction joins similar forms.

invoices and receipts (two nouns)

Phone him or email him. (two principal clauses)

attractive but expensive (two adjectives)


2. A subordinating conjunction is used to relate dependent or subordinate parts (usually subordinate adverbial clauses) to the main part of a sentence.

Ask him when he arrives.

Because we were late, the meeting was delayed.

The results are conclusive, as this graph will indicate.


In these sentences when, because and as are the subordinating conjunctions beginning the subordinate clauses.

continuous aspect

See verbs 10.2.


1. There are two types of contractions. One type is an abbreviation of a single word which retains the first and last letters of the original.

Dr     D(octo)r

ne’er     ne(v)er


See abbreviations.


2. The other type of contraction reduces two words to a single one in which an apostrophe shows where a letter or letters have been removed.

we’re     we (a)re

could’ve     could (ha)ve


In the rare cases of letters having been removed from two places, only a single apostrophe is usually used.

shan’t     sha(ll) n(o)t


This second type of contraction is usual in conversation or in dialogue in plays and novels, but, unless a very informal tone is being sought in your writing, you would normally write out both words in full.

coordinate clauses

See clauses 1.

coordinating conjunctions

See conjunctions 1.

count nouns

See nouns 3.1.

dative case

See case 4.

definite article / indefinite articles

1. definite article

1.1. In English the word the is the only definite article.

You use it to refer to a specific instance of the class of things which is being talked about. Which particular instance being referred to is usually identified in the surrounding words.

The dog next door barked all night.


Here the following phrase next door provides the identification.

Often the identification is provided by a previous mention in the text.

She was driving her new car. The car was not behaving very well.


Sometimes it is understood because there is only one instance existing in the current context.

the Premier

the moon


1.2. The definite article is also used when the whole of a category is being referred to.

The tiger likes to hunt at night.


Here every tiger is being referred to.

1.3. The is pronounced thuh before a word beginning with a consonant sound and thee before a word beginning with a vowel sound.

the dog (pronounced thuh)

the apple (pronounced thee)


The true sound in question may not always be indicated in the spelling.

the union (pronounced thuh)

the hour (pronounced thee)


In the examples above, union looks like it starts with a vowel, but the sound is actually y, and hour, although it has an h in its spelling, starts with a vowel sound.

2. indefinite articles

In English the indefinite articles are a and an and, according to some people, some.

2.1. The indefinite articles a and an are used before singular count nouns, and most often refer to an as yet unidentified instance of what the following noun refers to.

A woman suddenly turned the corner.


This implies that we do not know who this woman was and that she has not been mentioned before in the text.

But, like the definite article, these two indefinite articles can be used also to refer to the whole of the category.

A tiger likes to hunt at night.


2.2. Whether to use a or an is decided by the pronunciation of the beginning of the following word.

A is used when the next word begins with a consonant sound. An is used when the next word begins with a vowel sound.

a dog

an awful dog

an hour

an apple

a red apple

a union


See 1.3 above for comments of the pronunciation of words like union and hour.

2.3. When a noun with an indefinite article is in the plural, it has no article at all.

a tiger (singular)

tigers (plural)


2.4. Some is most commonly used to suggest an unidentified number or quantity.

There are some men coming up the garden path.

We will need some more bread.


It can also refer to part only of a whole quantity or category.

Some tigers like to hunt at night.


That is, not all tigers like to do this. Only a subgroup of them do.

When used with a singular noun, some can refer to an unidentified instance of what the following noun refers to in much the same way as a and an.

Some man rang last night wanting me to answer questions about shampoo.


Note that all the articles can be classified as determiners.

degrees of comparison

Adjectives and adverbs very often (although not always) have three degrees.

The positive degree is used when no comparison is implied.

a good car

to sing sweetly


The comparative degree is used when two things are compared.

a better car than mine

to sing more sweetly than a bird


The superlative degree is used when three or more things are, by inference, compared.

the best car on the market

to sing (the) most sweetly of all the birds


See adjectives 2; adverbs 4.

demonstrative adjectives

Demonstrative adjectives are the words this, these, that and those. Their function is to point out or to demonstrate the thing or things referred to by the noun in the same phrase.

this book here


See adjectives 4.2.

demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are the words this, these, that and those. Their function is to point out the nouns or pronouns they replace.

That is the house.


See pronouns 6.


According to some grammarians, a determiner is one of the many words which modify, or tell us something extra about, a noun and can occupy a place before a descriptive adjective which modifies the same noun. Adjectives describe whatever the noun refers to; determiners tell you which it is (or how many there are).

Among the determiners are numbers, as in

three blind mice


and articles, as in

an old apple


and demonstrative adjectives, as in

these black shoes


There are also some miscellaneous words such as some, all, any, etc., which can be classified as determiners.


Diphthongs are speech sounds which glide from one vowel sound to another within one syllable, like the vowel sounds in buy, bay, boy and how. They contrast with single vowel sounds, like those in bee, bought and buzz, which consist of just one fixed sound.

Note that although some vowels are spelt with two letters, such as the ea in leap, the vowel is still a single fixed sound, as opposed to a diphthong. The two letters which together represent these single sounds are called digraphs.

direct object

See object 1.

direct speech / direct quotation

Words which are written down exactly as someone has said them are referred to as direct speech.

I have no further interest in you at all’, she said coldly.


The term direct quotation applies to words which are written down exactly as someone else has written them down before.

The prime minister’s comment in the paper, ‘We must be ahead of the new technology’, was a starting point for discussion.


Direct speech and direct quotations are both always written between quotation marks.


See indirect speech / indirect quotation.

double negatives

1. Double negatives are used in expressions phrased to have a particular effect, such as

She is not unattractive.


Here one negative is meant to more or less cancel out the other. This use is different from double negatives used incorrectly in sentences in which the repetition of a negative word is meant to make the negative force of the sentence stronger.

I don’t know nothing.


This should be

I don’t know anything.



I know nothing.


2. Note that hardly can function as a sort of negative.

There are hardly any blueberries left.


So, to add another negative creates an incorrect double negative.

There aren’t hardly any blueberries left.


3. Scarcely, too, can have a negative implication and so to use it with without or any other negative word also creates an incorrect double negative.

I can do it without scarcely any trouble. (incorrect)

I can do it with scarcely any trouble. (correct)

He can’t scarcely move. (incorrect)

He can scarcely move. (correct)


doubling the final consonant

Words which end with a single consonant often have a short vowel preceding that consonant, as in fit, hat, cut.

When a suffix is added, the final consonant is often doubled, as in fitting, hatted, cutter.

This is done to prevent the words being misread as a long vowel (fiting would look as if it sounded like fighting) and to separate them from similar words which do have long vowels, hatted from hated, cutter from cuter.

This all seems quite sensible but, unfortunately, the rules governing final consonant doubling as a whole go well beyond what we have here. They contain internal inconsistencies and are marked by national differences and so it is not surprising that few people handle them with confidence.

The rules most common in Australian use are as follows:

1. single-syllabled words

Words of one syllable ending in a single consonant (not w, x or y), double that consonant when a suffix beginning with a vowel is added.

fit     fitting     fitted     fitter


but fitness


shut     shutting     shutter


but shutdown


Exceptions are the cases where the preceding vowel is spelt with two or more letters.

foot              footing

heat             heated


2. multi-syllabled words

The following rules sum up what happens in general, but for such rules there are always exceptions.

Words of two or more syllables ending in a single consonant (not w, x or y), double the final consonant when a suffix beginning with a vowel is added, depending on where the principal stress of the word falls.

2.1. Such words do double the consonant if the stress falls on the last syllable.

submit     submitting     submitted     submitter

refer     referring     referred     referrer


Exceptions are the cases where the vowel in the last syllable is spelt with two or more letters.

repeat     repeating     repeated     repeater


2.2. They do not double the consonant if the stress does not fall on the last syllable.

matter     mattering     mattered

audit     auditing     audited     auditor


When the addition of a suffix causes the stress to move away from the final syllable, the final consonant is not doubled.

refer     referred

but reference

Exceptions to this pattern are as follows:

● words ending in -l do double the final syllable, unless the suffix is -ise, or -ise plus another suffix.

travel     travelling     travelled     traveller

vocal     vocalise     vocalisation


● words which stress the first syllable but whose second syllable contains a vowel sound which would be changed if the final consonant was not doubled.

kidnap     kidnapping


If this had a single -p-, the tendency would be to pronounce it kid-nayping.

Most words which have their stress on the first syllable have an indeterminate uh vowel sound in the last syllable, so their pronunciations are not affected by the lack of a double consonant.

benefit     benefited

rocket     rocketed

target     targeted


● words ending in -s, in which case both single and doubled consonants occur, as with focus:

focused or focussed


Note that American English does not allow these exceptions and hence traveler, focused, etc., are their usual forms. Australian English is not uniform in practice. Rebélled follows the rules and is accepted but réveled, which also follows the rules, is apparently thought by many to ‘look wrong’ and révelled is more common.

‘e’ at the end of a word

1. pronunciation

A word ending in -e may have the final e sounded in certain words which are foreign borrowings, and which retain something of their former pronunciation.

forte     cafe     finale


But in the vast majority of cases, -e at the end of a word is silent, regardless of the background of the word.

imitate     there     madame     node


Even so it is usually not without function. It may, for example:

1.1. determine the pronunciation of the vowel which directly precedes it in the same word.

mat / mate      cut / cute      dot / dote


1.2. at the same time ensure that any c or g immediately before it is pronounced ‘soft’ (that is, as the sound of ‘s’ in lace, and the ‘j’ of John, respectively) instead of ‘hard’ (that is, as the sound of ‘k’ in cut, and ‘g’ in get, respectively).

mac / mace      tic / trice      hug / huge


2. word formation

There are rules governing the final -e when the words which have it are extended with word endings.

2.1. When the added suffix or word element begins with a consonant, -e is retained.

mate      mateship

advertise      advertisement


There are three main exceptions to this rule:

● When the word ends in -dge, retaining the -e becomes optional.

judgement      judgment

acknowledgement      acknowledgment

abridgement      abridgment


● When the word ends in -ce or -ge, the -e is retained.

slice      sliceable

manage      manageable

outrage      outrageous


● When the absence of -e creates a word which seems to suggest an interpretation different from what was intended.

singe      singeing


If the -e were dropped, this would be read as singing.

2.2. If the added suffix begins with a vowel or -y, the final -e is dropped.

mate      mating

adventure      adventurous

refuse      refusal

fleece      fleecy


This is why the addition of the suffixes -er and -est does not produce double e.

huge      huger

write      writer


Note that words ending in -oe keep the e before i.

canoe      canoeing


Words ending in -ie change the -ie to -y before a suffix beginning with i.

lie     lying

die     dying


3. Many people retain the -e even when the word they think is being wrongly brought to mind is a nonsense word, especially if it is a monosyllabic one. The verb age should produce aging, but many prefer to write ageing because they feel the form suggests the imaginary verb ag. This approach and that of rules operate together to produce common alternative spellings for many words.

ropable      ropeable

ratable      rateable

whinging      whingeing


An exclamation is an utterance that is said or cried out suddenly.

How fantastic!

Oh, no!

future tense

See verbs 9.


In grammar, gender is a set of classes, such as masculine, feminine and neuter. In many languages, all nouns belong to one gender or another, but in English only the pronouns show gender. For example, she is feminine, he is masculine and it is neuter.


See verbs 5.4.


The verb have is one of the most commonly used in English. This is because, in addition to its common meaning of ‘to own’, and, in the compound verb have to, the meaning of ‘to be compelled to’, it functions as an auxiliary verb to form various compound tenses with other verbs.

I have six bikes. (‘to own’)

He has to see the manager. (‘to be compelled to’)

They have come back early. (auxiliary verb)

They had been corrected. (auxiliary verb)


Have forms predictable contractions with not of the type hasn’t, haven’t and hadn’t, but less predictable ones with preceding nouns and pronouns, as in

We’ve seen it before. (We have)

He’d taken a short cut. (He had)

Nick’s played that piece before. (Nick has)

imperative mood

See verbs 11.2.

imperfect aspect

See verbs 10.2.

indicative mood

See verbs 11.1.

indirect object

See object 2.

indirect speech / indirect quotation

Indirect or reported speech offers the general meaning of what someone has said or written, but, unlike direct speech, makes no attempt to reproduce the exact words used.

I have no further interest in you at all’, she told him coldly. (direct speech)

She told him coldly that she had no further interest in him at all. (indirect speech)

Where has Helen gone?’, he asked anxiously. (direct speech or question)

He anxiously asked where Helen had gone. (indirect speech or question)

Shakespeare’s words were ‘In delay there lies no plenty’. (direct quotation)

I agree with Shakespeare that there is no profit in delaying. (indirect quotation)


Indirect language can be in any tense but it tends most often to be in a past tense.


See direct speech / direct quotation.


See object>object 4.


An inflection is an ending which is attached to a base word to show number, tense, person, aspect, etc.

The ending -s (or -es) on a noun to show that it is a plural is an inflection as are the various verb endings, which indicate person, tense, aspect, etc.

he stays      he stayed      he was staying


See object>object; plural / singular.


An intensifier is a word which is used to emphasise another word.

She ran quickly.

She ran very quickly.


The intensifier in this sentence is a mild one – very. Other such words are extremely, incredibly, terrifically and awfully.

The problem with intensifiers is that they are often used too much and so lose much of their force.


Interjections are words or expressions which are outside the grammatical structure of a sentence. Literally the word means ‘thrown in’. Such words and expressions as Ouch! or Good heavens! have no place in the structure of the sentence but are utterances that stand on their own. Interjections are often indicated with an exclamation mark.

interrogative adjectives

Interrogative adjectives are questioning words which relate to nouns, such as which, what and whose.

Which bag did you buy?

What train will we catch?

Whose dog is that?


See adjectives 4.1.

interrogative adverbs

Interrogative adverbs are questioning words which relate to verbs, such as how, why, when and where.

How will we manage?

Why did she go?

When did he leave?

Where will we go tonight?


See adverbs 3.1.

interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are questioning words which stand for nouns, such as who, which and what.

Who is going to the beach?

Which is the longest river in the world?

What is the answer?


See pronouns 4.

intransitive verbs

See verbs 8.

irregular words

Words which do not conform to the most usual patterns for their group may be called irregular.

For example, the usual pattern of change with degree for an English adjective is either to add the suffixes -er and -est to the base word, or to use more and most with the base word.

fair      fairer      fairest

beautiful      more beautiful      most beautiful


The adjectives good and bad are called irregular since they do not follow this pattern:

good      better      best

bad      worse      worst


Again, the majority of English verbs add -ed to the infinitive to form their past tense and past participle.

jump      jumped      jumped

walk      walked      walked


Those which do not conform to this pattern and which have past forms which can not be predicted from the infinitive form are called irregular verbs.

ride      rode      ridden

fight      fought      fought

set      set      set

its / it’s

Its is the form of the possessive case of the personal pronoun it. It never has an apostrophe.

The horse looks old. I don’t like its chances.

My horse doesn’t need your spare bridle yet. Its is still quite usable.


This form has survived in English since the time when the case of a noun or pronoun was quite usually reflected in its form. Modern English nouns change only in the possessive case.

Nick sings; Nick’s song


But personal pronouns, like it, do indicate their case by their form. See pronouns 1.

It’s is a shortened form of it is or it has. It always has an apostrophe and it doesn’t matter whether it is a personal pronoun or an impersonal pronoun.

The horse looks old. It’s quite decrepit. (personal pronoun)

It’s not going to rain I tell you! (impersonal pronoun)


In both sentences the expanded form of it’s is it is. See contractions 2.

main clauses

See clauses 1.

mass nouns

See nouns 3.2.

modal verbs

See Verbs 2.4.

mood in grammar

See verbs 11.

not only . . . but also

This is one of the ‘balanced’ constructions of the language which join together two words of the same part of speech or two sets of words which are somehow grammatically of the same kind.

She was not only a liar but also a thief. (two nouns with articles)

He liked winning not only at the races but also at the casino. (two adverbial phrases)


Other constructions of this type include either . . . or, neither . . . nor and both . . . and.

I will see him either when he gets out of jail or shortly before. (two adverbial structures)

Both when I was in Europe and when I was in South America, I had stomach upsets. (two adverbial clauses)

noun clauses

noun clauses

A noun clause is one which performs the function of a noun.

What he said to me was horrifying.


In this sentence What he said to me is the subject of the verb.


See clauses 2.2.

noun phrases

See phrases 1.


A noun is the name for a person, thing, emotion, idea, group, etc.

1.1. A common noun refers to any member of a type or class.

river      cottage      car      child


1.2. A proper noun is the name for one particular member of a class, and usually has a capital letter.

Sydney      Milky Way

Lady Luck      Edmund Barton


2.1. An abstract noun refers to an intangible thing, without physical properties, such as an emotion, concept, etc.

love      nationalism      luck      character


Note that writing that employs too many abstract nouns can become difficult to read, so if your aim is to grab the attention of the reader, a string of abstract nouns will, generally speaking, have the opposite effect.

2.2. A concrete noun refers to a thing with physical properties, that is, that has a real existence in the material world.

paper      sun      light      chair      people


3.1. A count noun is a noun referring to an object which can be thought of as existing in numbers so that groups of the objects can be counted.

A banana is yellow.

Bananas are yellow.


3.2. A mass noun is a noun referring to an object which is thought of as existing in bulk, such as butter and wheat. It is not normally able to be counted as a set of individual items. Such nouns take a singular verb.

Butter is good on toast.


Sometimes, such nouns can be used to refer to varieties of the object they refer to and then they can be counted, but in that case they cease to be mass nouns and become count nouns.

There are two New Zealand butters coming onto the market.


More often, however, a phrase like ‘kinds of’ is inserted. There are two kinds of New Zealand butter coming onto the market.


Other names for mass nouns are uncount nouns and non-count nouns.

4. A collective noun refers to a collection of similar things.

herd      group      jury      fleet


Collective nouns may take singular verbs if you think of them as single units.

Our team was the best in the whole competition.


They may take plural verbs if you think of the things (or persons) within them as individuals.

The team were all elated by the win.


In grammar, a noun, pronoun or verb can refer to one or a number of persons or objects. If it refers to one, it is singular in number. If it refers to more than one, it is plural. See plural / singular.


1. direct object

The word referring to the person or thing affected by the action of a verb is said to be the direct object, or often just the object, of the verb.

The earthquake damaged the century-old church.

Her car must have hit the newly-painted fence very hard.


The object can be singular as above, or plural as follows:

The earthquake damaged several buildings.


The object can be found by asking who? or what? after the verb. For instance, in the last sentence above, one would say ‘The earthquake damaged what?’. The answer is ‘several buildings’.

The nouns or pronouns in the object referring to whatever is directly affected by the action of the verb are in the objective (or accusative) case. In the examples above, the nouns church, fence and buildings are in the objective case.

See case 2.

2. indirect object

In some sentences whose verbs have a direct object, a second object may be found which refers to the person or thing affected by, or benefited by, the action of the verb.

Helen brought me this shirt from London.

Her car gave the newly-painted fence a tremendous blow.


This second object is called the indirect object and can usually be identified because to and for can be put in front of it when the sentence is slightly rearranged.

Helen brought this shirt from London for me.

Her car gave a tremendous blow to the newly-painted fence.


Indirect objects can also be singular or plural.


See case 4.

objective case

See case 2.


You need to be careful about where you place only in a sentence, because its position can change the whole meaning of the sentence. Compare the following examples:

Nick can get only mangoes today.


This means that Nick can buy no other fruit but mangoes today.

Nick can get mangoes today only.


This means that Nick can get the mangoes today, but not tomorrow or any other day.

Only Nick can get mangoes today.


This means that no-one but Nick can get the mangoes today.

Sometimes the meaning of a sentence containing only is unclear:

Nick can only get mangoes today.


This could mean that he could only get them today, and no other day, or it could mean that he could only get mangoes, and no other fruit. In speech, if the first meaning was intended, you should place a greater stress on the word today. If the second meaning was intended, the stress would be placed on mangoes. In writing, it is best to add something to the sentence to make the meaning completely clear.

Nick can only get mangoes today – they won’t be available tomorrow.

Nick can only get mangoes, and no other fruit, today.


The following sentence is similarly unclear, and, in writing, would need the same treatment as the example above.

Nick can get mangoes only today.


A paragraph is one of the blocks into which a text is visually subdivided, often by the indentation of the text at the beginning of the block.

Ideally each paragraph should contain and explain one main point. This especially applies in lengthy pieces, such as reports, summaries, essays, etc.

This is one area where otherwise fluent writers can have difficulty. There are a few ways of evaluating and correcting this aspect of your writing.

● Mark the main sentence in each paragraph. All other sentences in the paragraph should explain, qualify, or add to that one main idea or statement. If you find contrasting or unrelated thoughts or topics in the same paragraph, then give them a paragraph of their own.

● Check to see that each paragraph moves in a clear direction. The sentences must be in such an order that the argument or train of thought starts at the beginning, makes a point, and follows through to the logical end.

● There is usually some connection between the various paragraphs in a piece of writing. Make the relationships clear by use of your introductory sentences. For example:

The second aspect of the problem is . . .

A contrasting point of view was put forward by . . .

There is supporting evidence for this argument in . . .


● Read the whole piece of writing after it has been typed. Read it aloud if possible. Ask another person to read it and to comment. It is not unusual for a good writer to make several drafts before achieving the final desired form.


See verbs 5.

part of speech

The part of speech is the grammatical category into which a given word in a given context may be placed. In traditional English grammar, we generally say that there are eight parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Each of these is described in its alphabetical place in this guide, and extra information about the various types is given there.


See verbs 7.

past participles

See verbs 5.5.

past tense

See verbs 9.

perfect aspect

See verbs 10.1.


In grammar, person is a categorisation applied to personal pronouns and to verbs. It has nothing to do with people. There are three kinds:

1. first person

First person applies to the person(s) speaking or writing. So I and we, together with their other forms like me, our, etc., are all in the first person. Also, any verbs which have I or we as their subjects are in the first person.

I usually take my dog for a walk in the mornings.


2. second person

Second person applies to the person(s) or thing(s) spoken to or written to. So you, and the archaic thou, together with their other forms like your and thy, etc., are all in the second person. Also any verbs which have you or thou as their subjects are in the second person.

Do you want to bring your dog?


3. third person

Third person applies to the person(s) or thing(s) spoken about or written about. So he, she, it and they, together with their other forms like him, hers, its and them, etc., are all in the third person. Also any verbs which have he, she, it, they, or any thing being discussed as their subjects are in the third person.

The horse now lives in its own stable.


In modern English the verb does not as a rule change in form with person or number. Nevertheless, the third person singular present tense does take a different ending in most verbs.

I swim      you swim      he swims      we swim     they swim

personal pronouns

A personal pronoun stands for a person or thing. Examples are I, we, you, he, she, it and they. See pronouns 1.


A phrase is a group of words which are felt to belong together but which do not have a finite verb.

Please reply by return mail.


1. Phrases may be classified by the function they perform. The phrase above modifies the verb reply, saying when to reply. Since it does the work of an adverb, it is an adverbial phrase.

If, allowing for a loss of precision, a single word can be found to replace the phrase, its part of speech will tell us what kind of phrase the phrase is.

Please reply by return mail.


This could more simply be written

Please reply soon.


Soon is an adverb, so the phrase it replaces is an adverbial phrase.

The departure, being dependent on weather, cannot be predicted.


This tells us that the departure is weather-dependent – it is an adjectival phrase.

A bright but softly shining moon lit the scene.


This tells us that a moon lit the scene – it is a noun phrase.

2. When sentences get very long, it can happen that words or phrases are misplaced and the meaning of the sentence is changed or reduced to nonsense.

Yesterday we sent an urgent order for extra steel because prices, which have been stable till now, are about to escalate by email.


Obviously the phrase by email needs to be moved closer to sent.

Yesterday we sent an urgent order by email for extra steel because prices, which have been stable till now, are about to escalate.

pluperfect aspect

See verbs 10.1.

plural / singular

Nouns, pronouns and verbs are said to be plural, in the plural or plural in number if they refer to more than one person or thing. They are said to be singular, in the singular or singular in number if they refer to only one person or thing.

1. nouns

1.1. Nouns which show their plurality in writing by just adding -s or -es are called regular. The choice is predictably determined by the nature of the preceding sound.

one dog two dogs

one watch two watches


1.2. However, other nouns form plurals in different ways for a variety of reasons. These plurals are called irregular.

1.3. A small number of very old nouns retain long-abandoned plural patterns which were once common. A few still change their vowel to show plurality, while others reflect the old plural ending -n and one or two do not change in form at all.

goose        geese

ox              oxen

brother      brethren

deer          deer

foot           feet

sheep       sheep


1.4. Many borrowed words retain the plural patterns they had in the language from which they were borrowed. Unlike regular nouns, their plurals are not predictable and have to be learned on an individual basis.

radius / radii (Latin)

criterion / criteria (Greek)

chateau / chateaux (French)


1.5. The apostrophe with s should never be used to mark the plural form of a noun.

The plural of tomato is tomatoes, not tomato’s.

The plural of horse is horses, not horse’s.


2. pronouns

The personal pronouns and the demonstrative pronouns change with number. See pronouns 1 and 6.

3. verbs

In English, only one form of the verb regularly shows the difference between singular and plural – the third person present tense singular verb is marked by an ending spelt either -s or -es depending on the nature of the sound which comes before it. The plural does not change.

She sings. / They sing.

Helen watches carefully. / The two sisters watch carefully.


Most of the modal auxiliaries and one or two main verbs do not even show this much variation.

She will watch carefully. / They will watch carefully.

She need not watch at all. / They need not watch at all.


4. adjectives

In modern English, the demonstrative adjectives this and that change form when applied to plural nouns.

this book       these books

that hat       those hats


They are the only adjectives in English to do so now but a thousand years ago all English adjectives changed with number and this is still the case with adjectives in many languages closely related to English like German, French and Italian.

possessive adjectives

Possessive adjectives are words like my, his, our, etc. They are the possessive case of the personal pronouns in the forms which precede their noun.

your pen

their car


Compare possessive pronouns.

See pronouns 1.

possessive case

See case 3.

possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns are words like mine, his, ours, etc. They are the possessive case of the personal pronouns in the forms which follow their noun.

The pen is yours.

The car is theirs.


Compare possessive adjectives.

See pronouns 1.


Sentences may be thought of as being in two parts – the subject, which is who or what is being discussed, and the predicate, which is what is being said about it. The subject may be identified by asking ‘who?’ or ‘what?’ before the main verb. The predicate is everything else in the sentence.

The cat in the corner would not eat her dinner because it was cold.


Who or what would not eat?

The cat in the corner


So ‘the cat in the corner’ must be the subject of this sentence, and everything else, ‘would not eat her dinner because it was cold’ must be the predicate.

As in this sentence, predicates very often follow their subjects. But cases where they come before them are not rare.

Without any warning and with her claws out, up jumped an angry cat.


            Who or what jumped up?

An angry cat


So ‘an angry cat’ is the subject of the sentence, and everything else, ‘Without any warning and with her claws out, up jumped’ is the predicate. See subject.


See affixes.


A preposition is a word which defines the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and some other word(s) in the sentence.

That book is on the shelves above the desk, between the atlas and the dictionary.

He talked to me for a long time.


The noun or pronoun following a preposition is said to be its object. Nouns as objects of prepositions are not different in form from the same nouns as subjects but many pronouns are.

The library is opening soon. (subject of sentence)

Come to the library. (object of preposition to)


Library has the same form as a subject and as an object.


We are here. (subject of sentence)

Come to us. (object of preposition to)


We is in the subjective case and us is in the objective case.

Prepositions are said to govern their objects. The preposition to governs library and us in the examples above. See case 2.2.

present participles

See verbs 5.1.

present tense

present tense

See verbs 9.

principal clauses

See clauses 1.


Pronouns are words which take the place of nouns. Using them avoids having to repeat those nouns.

Helen loves cars. They (cars) fascinate her (Helen).


Very often, as in this example, the replaced noun precedes the pronoun in the text but cases do occur where this is not so.

They’ll be hurt, those boys over there!


Sometimes the replaced noun is not in the text at all and has to be deduced from the general context. The following could be said by a person looking at a menu in a cafe.

Now what will I have?


In this sentence what refers to the things offered on the menu and I to the person speaking.


There are several types of pronoun:

1. personal pronouns

Personal pronouns are those which replace nouns referring to persons or things.

Nick came in. He looked tired. (In this sentence he refers to a person, Nick.)

The car stopped. It was very old. (In this sentence it refers to a thing, the car.)


Personal pronouns often change form with change of case.

I play soccer. (I – subjective case)

She hit me. (me – objective case)

The ball is mine. (mine – possessive case)

She likes tennis. (she – subjective case)

Helen liked her. (her – objective case)

The book was hers. (hers – possessive case)


Note that in English the dative case forms are the same as the objective case. See case 4.

We can list all these changes in a table.



Subjective case



Possessive case (1)

Possessive case (2)















he, she, it

him, her, it

his, her, its

his, hers, its




















Possessive (1) forms are used in front of their nouns, possessive (2) forms after them.

This is my book.

This book is mine.

Whose book is this? Mine!


Possessive (1) forms may be called possessive adjectives as well as personal possessive pronouns, or personal pronouns in the possessive case.

Possessive (2) forms may be called possessive pronouns as well as personal possessive pronouns, or personal pronouns in the possessive case.


2. impersonal pronouns

Some people regard pronouns which refer to objects rather than people as impersonal pronouns. So it and they (when they refer to objects) would not be included among the personal pronouns.

Be careful of these knives. They are very sharp.


Other people apply the name impersonal pronoun only to it in those cases where it does not replace any noun.

It seemed sad to me.

It was raining very hard.


3. indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are those which do not specify which person(s) or thing(s) are being referred to. They include words like one, some, anyone, anybody, anything, someone, somebody, something, no-one, nobody, nothing, each, and, for some writers, the impersonal pronoun it, as in It is raining.

Anyone can see what to do.

Somebody has been here before us.


Also included are they and you when they refer to unspecified persons generally, in much the same way that one, some, etc., do.

One does not know which way to turn.

You would think he’d know better.

They say the river’s rising.


There is sometimes a problem in sentences where reference is made back to an indefinite pronoun with singular number. Consider the following:

Each must make up his own mind.


Each must make up his or her own mind.


Each must make up their own mind.


In the past, a masculine pronoun like his was considered to include both males and females in sentences like this. Over the past few decades this convention has been found to be unacceptable to many people and the clear inclusion of females was preferred, as in his or her. Others thought this was too clumsy and preferred to use the plural form their even though it referred to a singular entity – each person.

This solution is the one being adopted more and more these days. See sexist language 1.3.

4. interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are those which play a part in making a sentence into a question. They are who, its objective case form whom, its possessive case form whose, along with what and which.

4.1. The who forms may be used only with reference to human beings.

Whose is that hat?

Who did that?


These days, whom seems to be used in interrogative situations only by somewhat self-conscious speakers. So while ‘Whom did you see?’ and ‘For whom did you buy it?’ are both strictly speaking grammatically correct, it is much more usual to say ‘Who did you see?’ and ‘Who did you buy it for?’.

4.2. What can be used with reference to non-human living things, or non-living things.

What was that horse that won the Cup? (what horse?)

Now what will I choose to open the program? (what song?)


4.3. Which may be used with reference to all living and non-living things in situations which distinguish between alternatives.

Which is the taller – Helen or her sister?

Of these two tables, which is the cheaper?


5. relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are those which appear at, or very near, the beginning of adjectival or relative clauses. They are who, its objective case form whom, its possessive case form whose, along with that and which.

The nouns or pronouns they refer to are their antecedents.

The house that Jack built fell down. (In this sentence the antecedent is house.)


5.1. The who forms are used only with antecedents which refer to human beings or to personified beings.

Where is the boy who just spoke?

The woman, whose poem won the prize, was delighted.


An exception to this is whose, which is sometimes used with non-human nouns. See whose / of which.

5.2. That is used with antecedents which refer to any living creatures or to things.

Where is the boy that just spoke?

The horse that won the Cup collapsed.

The house that he saw yesterday is the one he’s buying.


5.3. Which is used with antecedents which refer to non-human living creatures or to things.

The germs which showed up in the test were lethal.

This is the hammer which was used by the murderer.


Relative pronouns carry with them the number and person of their antecedents, and this can be seen reflected in the verbs of which they are subjects. They also have case which is determined by their role in the relative clause.

I who am your king command it. (In this sentence who is first person, singular, subjective case.)

They in whom you trust ask it. (In this sentence whom is third person, plural, objective case.)


See clauses 2.3.


6. demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are the words this and its plural these, and that and its plural those.

They are used to direct attention to the subject or subjects of discussion, without repeating the noun or nouns in question, in situations where these subjects can be pointed to or deduced from the general context.

This and these are used when the subjects are thought of as being close at hand and that and those when they are thought of as being further away or somehow distanced.

This is the man you should speak to.

These are my very best shoes.


That really is a splendid house over there.

My shoes aren’t nearly as nice as those.


7. reflexive pronouns

The reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves and themselves.

They are used when the direct or indirect object of a verb is the same person or persons as the subject referred to.

She hit herself on the finger.

The children made themselves a tree house.


8. emphatic pronouns

Emphatic pronouns have the same forms as the reflexive pronouns. Their function is to add emphasis to a noun or pronoun.

I myself have never seen an armadillo.

It is as though Helen herself had come back to us.

proper nouns

See nouns 1.2.


1. Many questions can be thought of as having been made from sentences which are statements. Statements can be converted into questions in many ways.

1.1. In speech, very often changing the way the voice rises and falls is enough. The following is a statement in which the voice falls on now.

He’s going now.


The following is a statement in which the voice rises on now, which is more heavily stressed.

He’s going now?


1.2. Sentences which have verbs in the simple present or simple past tense are converted with the help of the modal auxiliary do.

Nick plays golf. / Does Nick play golf?

Helen played golf. / Did Helen play golf?


1.3. Sentences with compound verbs often need to be rearranged so that one modal auxiliary comes first.

Helen had been playing golf. / Had Helen been playing golf?

Nick was doing the shopping. / Was Nick doing the shopping?


1.4. Very often, statements merely have added to them a so-called negative tag question (or tag-end question), like won’t you? or isn’t it?

You’ll enjoy that, won’t you?

The train is late, isn’t it?


Usually the negative tag question is a question that the speaker doesn’t really need to have answered. The second sentence above, for instance, can only be asked by someone who already knows that the train is late. The purpose in this and many similar cases is merely to encourage the other person in the conversation to speak back. It is a form of social behaviour, an attempt at bonding with the person addressed. In this case the real question (that is, one that is asking for information) would have a positive tag question.

The train is late, is it?


2. Some questions are not so easily thought of as being tied to matching statements. These are the ones which depend on one or more of a group of special question words such as the interrogative pronouns, the interrogative adjectives or the interrogative adverbs.

Who made that noise? (pronoun)

Which door is broken? (adjective)

Where is the key? (adverb)

When did he do it, and why? (adverbs)

reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are words in the form of myself, himself, ourselves, etc. They are used when the object or indirect object of a verb is the same person or persons as the subject.

We gave ourselves a lot of trouble.


See pronouns 7.


Register is used generally to mean a tone or style that is appropriate to a given situation or piece of writing. For example, it is not appropriate to write a job application in a very informal style, because the application would be in the wrong register. Writing of this kind is expected to be formal and serious.

Equally, it would be wrong to talk in this formal style at the dinner table where you are expected to be relaxed and friendly.

There are a number of elements that add up to the right register but usually it involves choosing certain kinds of words and certain kinds of sentence constructions. These choices are shaped by the subject matter, by the relationship between the speaker or writer and the person being addressed, and by the choice of medium of communication – writing, speaking, email, telephone, etc.

relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are the words who, whom, whose, which and that, when used at the beginning of an adjectival or relative clause.

This is the girl who lost her lunch.

These are the people whose dog won the competition.


See pronouns 5.

restrictive / non-restrictive

Plural nouns standing alone can direct our attention to every member of a class or category.

People can be cruel.

Cars are a curse in modern society.


Plainly these sentences mean that all people can be cruel and that all cars are a curse.

If an adjective is applied, our attention is likely to be directed to a subset, or group only, of the whole category.

Vain people can be cruel.

Powerful cars are a curse in modern society.


At once we see that not all people can be cruel, only the vain ones; not all cars are a curse, only the powerful ones. Because of the effect they have, adjectives used like vain and powerful here have a restricting, or restrictive, function. Since an adjectival, or relative, clause functions as an extended adjective, it too can be restrictive.

Australians who are easy-going are a happy bunch.


This means that not all Australians are a happy bunch, only those who are easy-going. So who are easy-going is a restrictive relative clause.

Curiously, if one puts an adjective or a relative clause between commas (or dashes or brackets) it becomes non-restrictive.

Australians, who are easy-going, are a happy bunch.


This sentence implies that all Australians are both easy-going and a happy bunch. So, in this sentence, who are easy-going is a non-restrictive relative clause.


1. A sentence is a group of words, or even one word, which conveys a self-contained and complete meaning.

When written, a sentence always begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, a question mark or an exclamation mark.

He saw the car coming quickly down the road.

Oh yeah?

Come on!


2. It is usual for a sentence to have a finite verb. But instances where this is not the case are quite common, especially in answer to questions.

When did Helen get home? Some time about one o’clock.


Such verbless sentences are sometimes called fragmentary sentences or sentence fragments.

3. A simple sentence is made up of just one principal clause.

The late rains had been welcome.


4. A compound sentence has two or more principal clauses which are joined together by coordinating conjunctions, that is, the words and, but and or. The clauses can be called coordinate clauses.

The car was packed and we were ready to leave.

The late rains had been welcome but the farmers were still worried.

I will go to town or I will go to the university.


5. A complex sentence has at least one principal clause and one or more subordinate clauses, each of which may be introduced by a subordinating conjunction.

I will go to town because I need to pick up my watch.


In this sentence I will go to town is the principal clause and because I need to pick up my watch is the subordinate clause introduced by the subordinating conjunction because.

If there are two or more subordinate clauses of the same type joined by a coordinating conjunction, then these subordinate clauses are linked as coordinate clauses.

I will go to town because I need to pick up my watch and because I feel like going out.


In this sentence because I need to pick up my watch and because I feel like going out are subordinate clauses joined by the conjunction and, so become coordinate clauses.

See clauses.

sexist language

Sexist language is language which is felt to deal unfairly with one or other of the sexes. It takes a number of forms.

1. non-inclusive language

Non-inclusive language is language used in contexts which suggest that both sexes should be referred to and which seems to omit reference to one of them, usually the female. It may involve the use of:

1.1. the word man or its compounds

Phrases like the history of man on earth and the story of mankind are clearly intended to mean ‘the history of men and women on earth’ and ‘the story of mankind and womankind’. Yet these phrases seem to many to make no reference to women at all.

It is best therefore to replace man and its compounds in contexts like these by more obviously inclusive terms. These two phrases might become the history of humans (or people) on earth and the story of the human species.

In seeking to use only non-sexist language, make sure to replace only those man words which actually refer to humans. Management, manufacture, mandate, for example, derive not from man but from the Latin word manus, ‘a hand’.

1.2. the suffix -man

Because both men and women take part in most forms of employment, it is inappropriate to use terms which end in -man for those who do the jobs, as these terms seem to only refer to men. They are best avoided unless a reference to a male is specifically intended, in which case it is perfectly acceptable to use terms such as chairman, policeman, sportsman, fireman, etc.

Beside some of these, words ending in -woman are used when a reference to a woman is specifically intended, such as chairwoman, policewoman, sportswoman, etc.

Words ending in -person, such as chairperson, sportsperson, etc., which refer to both sexes, are preferred by some, especially when it is not known what the sex of the person is.

Another solution is to find a genuinely sex-neutral term, such as chair, police officer, athlete (or sports competitor), firefighter, etc.

In cases where men have taken up work previously done mainly by women, similar feelings and processes have changed terminology, such as in the following

air hostess flight attendant

(nursing) sister charge nurse

matron director of nursing


1.3. the pronouns he, him and his

A sentence like

A child needs his own space to do his homework.


may be meant to refer to both boys and girls, yet it seems to many to refer only to boys. His seems non-inclusive in this sentence and such uses of the masculine pronouns he, him and his are to be avoided. Sometimes replacing he with heorshe, etc., works quite well.

A police officer has always to be on his or her guard.


Often however, the doubled pronouns sound clumsy.

A child needs his or her own space to do his or her homework.


One solution is to use the plural pronouns they, them and their which are gender-neutral, even if the noun or pronoun to which they refer is singular.

Anyone who finds their tent leaking should come to me.

A child needs their own space to do their homework.


Some people find the use of the plural pronoun with a word of singular number unacceptable. If this is the case, it is best to change the sentence so it is in the plural.

Children need their own space to do their homework.


See pronouns 3.


2. unnecessary gender reference

There are contexts in which the gender of people referred to is clearly relevant.

Women barristers are under-represented in Australia.


And there are contexts in which information about gender is quite irrelevant.

Professional people applied: a former doctor, an engineer and a woman barrister.


Many people feel that unnecessary gender reference is sexist and object to gender markers of this sort. It is probably best therefore to avoid terms like poetess, authoress, male nurse, woman scientist, etc., in the usual case. Use gender-neutral terms like poet, author, nurse, scientist, etc.

simple past

See verbs 9.

simple present

See verbs 9.

simple verbs

See verbs 1.



Statements are sentences of the type which offer information.

The ship is entering the harbour now.


The other sentence types are questions, commands and exclamations.

When is the ship due? (question)

Signal the ship to enter the harbour now. (command)

What a wonderful sight! (exclamation)


Sentences may be thought of as being in two parts – the subject, which is who or what is being discussed, and the predicate, which is what is being said about it. The subject may be identified by asking ‘who?’ or ‘what?’ before the main verb. The predicate is everything else in the sentence.

The director’s fiery speech in the boardroom impressed Nick greatly.


What impressed Nick?

the director’s fiery speech in the boardroom


So the subject of this sentence is the director’s fiery speech in the boardroom and its predicate is impressed Nick greatly.

Note that, although this whole phrase is the subject of the sentence, it is not all in the subjective case. Only nouns or pronouns can have case, and only the noun(s) or pronoun(s) directly linked notionally to a finite verb are in the subjective case.

So in the sentence above, speech (directly linked to impressed) is in the subjective case, but director’s (owning speech) is in the possessive case and boardroom (governed by the preposition in) is in the objective case. See case.

See object; predicate.

subjective case

See case 1.

subjunctive mood

See verbs 11.3.

subordinate clauses

See clauses 2.

subordinating conjunctions


See affixes.

superlative degree


A syllable is a segment of speech consisting of one vowel or diphthong sound, with or without surrounding consonant sounds.

A syllable can form a whole word

owe        far         pike


or part of a word

wa-ter (two syllables)

pro-nun-ci-a-tion (five syllables)


Synonyms are words which have roughly the same meaning, such as joy, gladness, elation.

However, it is rarely the case that words are perfectly interchangeable. They usually have slightly different meanings or register. Compare antonyms.



See verbs 9.

transitive verbs

See verbs 8.

uncount nouns

See nouns 3.2.

upper-case letters / lower-case letters


A verb is a word which tells us what people or things do, or what is done to them.

I drive taxis. (This tells us what I do.)

Both cars are being towed into town. (This tells us what is being done to the cars.)


1. simple verbs

Simple verbs consist of one word only.

He drives here often.


2. compound verbs

2.1. Compound verbs consist of more than one word.

He has driven here often.


Frequently, a compound verb consists of a main verb, in one or other of its forms (in this case driven), together with one or more words which are called auxiliaries or modals (in this case has).

The main verb tells us what sort of action is being referred to while the auxiliary tells us something about the action – when it happens, perhaps.

She will sing tomorrow.


In this sentence, sing is the main verb and will is the auxiliary.

2.2. auxiliary verbs

These are verbs which are used with a main verb to show the tense, aspect and mood of the verb.

Have and be are commonly used as auxiliaries, as are the modals, such as can, could, must, will, should, etc.

He has gone to town.


In this sentence, has gone is a compound verb using the auxiliary has, and in the following should drive is the compound verb using the modal auxiliary should.

They should drive more carefully.


2.3. adverbial particles

These are words such as up, down, in, out, etc., which in other contexts are simply adverbs but are here part of the main verb itself.

Help me wash up. (The verb is wash up.)

Turn out the light, please. (The verb is turn out.)


In these examples, the verb and adverbial particle together make a single unit of meaning. This type of compound verb is a phrasal verb.

The adverbial particle in a compound verb has lost its adverbial meaning. There is nothing ‘up’ or ‘upwards’ about washing up and there is nothing ‘outside’ about turning out (a light).

Cases which look similar but in which adverbial meanings are retained do not contain compound verbs at all.

Help me climb up.

He staggered out after midnight.


In these examples, the verb is a single unit of meaning to which is added the meaning of the adverb.

2.4 modal verbs

Words like can, must, ought and will together with any other forms they may have like could and would, can combine with main verbs to play a part in establishing tense, aspect and mood (see 9, 10, 11 below).

You must have seen her.

It could have happened, I suppose.


Sometimes these verbs are called modal verbs or modals.

A verbal expression like ought to which functions in the same way as must and should, but is more than one word, is called a quasimodal.

She ought to see the doctor.


2.5. The parts of compound verbs are often separated from each other in sentences.

He had many times and often driven here before. (The verb is had driven.)

Could you please turn the light out. (The verb is could turn out.)


3. finite and non-finite verbs

3.1. Finite verbs have subjects and a sense of completeness. They may be simple or compound and are said to have number and person, which they take from their subjects. In many European languages finite verbs change in form quite often with the change of number and person, but in English such changes in form are relatively few.

3.2. Non-finite verbs do not have subjects or a sense of completeness. Nor are they said to have number or person although, most of them, like finite verbs, do have tense. They cannot be used alone to form a clause, but can be used to make phrases.

Non-finite verbs include parts of compound finite verbs like auxiliaries and modals, and participles, as well as infinitives.

Having enjoyed the day they looked forward to the evening.

To fish is a great delight for many.


4. infinitives

4.1. In English the infinitive is often taken to be a verb form together with a preceding ‘to’. Hence to come, to sing and to go are all infinitives.

More strictly, the infinitive is the ‘unmarked’ or ‘citation’ form of the verb, and, as such, is a non-finite verb form. That is, it is the verb before any considerations of grammatical agreement, use, or context have modified it. The forms of the verb which are unmarked and which follow certain modal auxiliaries are just as much infinitives as the ‘to’ forms.

You need not come. You need to come.

I will sing. I want to sing.

We both must go. We both are required to go.


The ‘to’ forms can combine both noun and verb functions. Like nouns they can be the subjects or objects of finite verbs. Like verbs they can themselves take objects and form past tenses.

To ride is good. (In this sentence the infinitive has a noun function and is the subject of is.)

To ride a horse is good. (In this sentence the infinitive has an added verb function with an object horse.)

To have ridden a horse is good. (In this sentence the infinitive has the additional verb function of indicating past tense.)


4.2 split infinitives

It used to be generally held that an infinitive of the type to love, to come, etc., should never be split. It was maintained that no word or words should ever be put between the two parts. Probably some people today hold the same opinion but most people are not even aware of an infinitive being split.The split infinitive is really very common. Some people may insist on saying

To compete successfully you have to be aggressive.


but many will say

To successfully compete you have to be aggressive.


5. participles

The verb has two types of participle – present and past.

5.1. present participles

Present participles are verb forms ending in -ing. When immediately preceded by an appropriate form of the verb to be they help make the continuous tenses (those which refer to continuing actions) of finite compound verbs. Continuous tenses vary in complexity.

I am reading this book slowly. (present continuous tense)

They were walking in the bush. (past continuous tense)

They will have been expecting you. (future perfect continuous tense)


5.2. Present participles often have adjectival function.

a running river


In cases like this where the action of the verb seems prominent in the phrase, the participles may be called participial adjectives. In cases where this action has faded because of frequent use, they are simply called adjectives.

a charming girl

a terrifying prospect


5.3. A dangling participle is a present participle with adjectival function where the noun or pronoun it relates to is either unstated or so far away in the text as to be hard to locate, often resulting in lack of clarity.

Coming round the corner, the church will immediately appear.


Obviously it is not the church which comes round the corner, which is what the sentence implies, but some person, perhaps a tourist, who is not mentioned. When a dangling participle occurs by accident the whole sentence usually needs to be reworded.

When you come round the corner you will immediately see the church.


5.4. Present participles are often used with noun function.

Flying is my main interest. (In this sentence the present participle has a noun function and is the subject of is.)


Those which are very frequently used, like flying (meaning ‘piloting an aeroplane’), are in fact called nouns. Participles with noun function retain enough of their verb function to take objects of their own.

Flying light aircraft is my main interest. (In this sentence the present participle has the added verb function of taking an object light aircraft.)


Such participles of double function are called gerunds.

In some sentences, whether the gerund is being thought of more as a noun or more as a verb may be reflected in the choice of the adjacent personal pronoun.

Mum doesn’t like my flying light aircraft. (noun function foremost)

Mum doesn’t like me flying light aircraft. (verb function foremost)


At one time some people insisted that all such sentences should reflect the noun function but the verb function pattern has always been the more common and is perfectly acceptable.

5.5 past participles

Past participles are verb forms which can directly follow appropriate forms of the verb to have in compound verbs. (They can also follow appropriate forms of the verb to be as the present participles do, but can be distinguished from them by never ending in -ing.)

The army had attacked the town the day before.

The town had been attacked quite often.


Regularly formed past participles end in -ed, but in fact, the most frequently used ones often are not regular.

I have done what you wanted.

I was quite overcome by the reception.


6. principal parts

Only two parts of the English verb cannot usually be reliably worked out from the infinitive. The past participle is one, and the other is the simple past tense. The typical English verb may be said to have three ‘principal parts’: the infinitive, the simple past tense and the past participle. From these the rest can be predicted. A foreign learner of English needs to learn the three principal parts of each verb, not just the infinitive.

infinitive            simple past              past participle

(to) sing            sang                         sung

(to) ride             rode                         ridden

(to) jump            jumped                    jumped


7. active and passive verbs (voice)

Verbs which have subjects which perform the actions which their verbs describe are said to be in the active voice, or more simply to be active.

The president closed the meeting.


Verbs which have subjects which receive the actions which their verbs describe are said to be in the passive voice, or more simply to be passive.

The meeting was closed by the president.


All passive verbs are compound verbs and include some form of the verb to be.

She will have been thrilled by the experience.


Note that a text with many passive verbs is likely to be more impersonal than one with few. In some circumstances that is thought to be appropriate, as in academic writing, but in others it is not. Writing which is lively and captures the attention does not have a lot of passive verbs.

8. transitive and intransitive verbs (transitivity)

Verbs which have direct objects are said to be transitive.

The pilot flew the plane very recklessly. (In this sentence plane is the direct object of flew.)


Verbs which have no direct objects are said to be intransitive.

She went to her room and thought very hard. (Asking who? or what? after went and thought gives no answer. So neither has a direct object.)


Some verbs can be used as both transitive and intransitive verbs.

He spoke kind words. (In this sentence spoke is transitive because kind words is the direct object.)

She stood and spoke. (In this sentence spoke is intransitive because there is no direct object.)


Other verbs are only ever transitive or intransitive. Active verbs may be transitive or intransitive but passive verbs are only ever transitive. This is because each sentence containing a passive verb is made by transforming another sentence in which the verb is active and has a stated direct object.

The pilot flew the plane very recklessly. (active verb flew; direct object plane)

The plane was flown very recklessly by the pilot. (passive verb was flown)


In the passive sentence, the original object becomes the subject and the original subject may or may not appear but it if does it follows the preposition by.

9. tense

9.1. A verb usually indicates when the action it refers to takes place relative to the time when the verb is spoken or written.

If the action is at the same time, the verb has present tense.

The boat is coming into the harbour now.


If the action was at a time before this, the verb has past tense.

The boat came into the harbour yesterday.


If the action will be at a time subsequent to this, the verb has future tense.

The boat will come into the harbour tomorrow.


9.2. Very often the tense of a verb is indicated by its form. Note how the forms of the verb to come used above determine the tense. It is not uncommon for the verb patterns to be reinforced by other ‘time’ words in the context. Here the ‘time’ words are now, yesterday and tomorrow.

A few verbs do not change form with certain tenses and so their tenses have to be deduced from the nearby ‘time’ words, or other verbs.

I set the dining-room table every day. (The verb set is present tense because of every day.)

I set the table just before she got home. (The verb set is past tense because of got.)


9.3. English uses many compound verbs in different tenses. The most complicated ones have no agreed names.

I think she could have been being watched by the police by then.


Here are the names of some common simple and compound verb tenses:

goes                                    (simple) present

is going                                present continuous

went                                    (simple) past

was going                            past continuous

has gone                             perfect

has been going                   perfect continuous

had gone                            pluperfect or past perfect

had been going                  pluperfect (or past perfect) continuous

will (shall) go                      (simple) future

will be going                       future continuous

will have gone                    future perfect


9.4. It is quite common to use present tense forms to indicate future action and to depend on ‘time’ words in the context to make the timing clear.

We are going overseas again next summer.


Such verbs may be described as present in form but future in tense.

The verb go is commonly used in the present continuous tense with the particle to to indicate future action.

We are all going to regret this.


It is much less usual to use present tense forms to indicate past action, relying on other time words, although this is common in some speech.

Last night she comes round to our house and she’s in a right state.


These verbs, present in form but past in tense are sometimes said to be in the narrative present or the historic present.

10. aspect

The aspect of a verb is that part of its meaning which indicates whether the action it refers to is complete or not.

10.1 perfect aspect

Verbs with perfect aspect refer usually to actions which are complete. The perfect aspect uses forms of the auxiliary verb have.

I have finished my homework. (perfect aspect)


It does not matter if the moment of completion was in the past or will be in the future.

I had finished my homework before she came. (past perfect or pluperfect aspect)

I will have finished my homework before she comes. (future perfect aspect)


All the verbs listed above in 9.3 which have tenses whose names include the word perfect have perfect aspect.

Certain finer shades of meaning are possible.

I have always finished my homework on time.


The verb with perfect aspect here not only suggests that the homework has always been finished on time up to the present moment, but that there is a likelihood that it will continue to be.

I had always finished my homework on time.


This verb implies that there is a likelihood that it will not continue to be the case.

10.2 continuous, progressive or imperfect aspect

Verbs with continuous aspect refer to actions which are not completed but are still in progress. The continuous aspect uses forms of the auxiliary verb be.

I am still finishing my homework. (present continuous aspect)


Again it does not matter whether the action in progress was in the past or will be in the future.

I was still finishing my homework when she came. (past continuous aspect)

I will still be finishing my homework when she comes. (future continuous aspect)


All the verbs listed above in 9.3 which have tenses whose names include the word continuous have continuous aspect.

Again finer shades of meaning are possible.

I am finishing my homework on time now.


The verb with present continuous aspect here implies, with the help of the context, that I did not always finish on time and also that I probably will finish on time from now on. It is a much more qualified statement than the simple present tense would give.

I finish my homework on time.


This suggests unchanging habit.

11. mood

The mood of a verb is that part of its meaning which reflects the attitude of the speaker or writer towards what is being conveyed.

11.1. indicative mood

Verbs in the indicative mood reflect no particular attitude on the part of the speaker or writer. They convey plain information or ask straightforward questions and they can be in any of the tenses listed in 9.3 above.

It rained all day yesterday.

Have you seen the scissors?


11.2. imperative mood

Verbs in the imperative mood are those which are used for commands, encouragements or simple requests.

Stop it!

Please pass the mustard.

Go home, now!


11.3. subjunctive mood

Verbs in the subjunctive mood reflect some qualification in the mind of the speaker or writer – perhaps some doubt, some uncertainty, some awareness that the information is improbable or hypothetical.

If I were prime minister, I would soon fix things up.

Long be it so!


The subjunctive mood also occurs in certain constructions, such as some indirect requests or orders.

We demand that he return the money at once.


The verbs in the three examples so far given all have forms which tell us they are subjunctive, not indicative, in mood. But English uses very few of these and the role of expressing wishes, doubt, etc., is often given over to compound verbs which have may or might in them.

May you live happily ever after. (May here expresses a wish.)

Of course it might have happened that way I suppose. (Might here expresses doubt.)


Although such compound verbs have taken over the subjunctive function it is not common to refer to them as being in the subjunctive mood. They are indicatives.


vowels / consonants

It is often said that the alphabet has only five vowels, namely a, e, i, o, and u, and that all the other letters are consonants. Yet clearly y acts as a vowel in words like chilly and ply just as it acts as a consonant in words like yacht and yawn.

This approach through letters of the conventional alphabet is not very helpful, even if we allow six vowel letters instead of five.

A truer picture of things emerges as we concentrate on sounds rather than the letters we use to indicate them. A vowel sound might then be defined as any sound that can be found in the middle slot in a word frame like ‘h-d’, as in heed, hid, head, had, hard, hod, hoard, hood, etc.

At once we begin to see that there are many more than five or six vowel sounds – indeed twelve in Australian English. If we group with them the diphthongs (vowel-like sounds during the production of which we must necessarily move our tongue), the number increases again. The diphthongs are the vowel-like sounds of high, hay, hoy, how, hoe, here, hair, and tour.

The consonant sounds of the language can be similarly identified and there are twenty-four of these. The forty-four sounds of Australian English identified in this way give a better picture of the building blocks out of which our language is made than the twenty-six letters of the traditional alphabet which, in English generally, are applied so haphazardly.

who / whom

Whom is the objective form of who, so strictly speaking you would say

The man whom I saw yesterday gave me his card.

Whom did you see?


In fact, the use of whom can sound slightly pompous in speech and it is very common to hear

The man who I saw yesterday gave me his card.

Who did you see?

whose / of which

Since who normally refers to people, not things, some writers also restrict whose to people. Applying this restriction, we could write of a politician whose vision has never been dimmed but not of a book whose impact has been outstanding.

In fact, most writers find it clumsy to avoid whose. For instance,

a room whose walls were cracked and filthy


seems much neater than using of which, as in

a room the walls of which were cracked and filthy

a room of which the walls were cracked and filthy

whose / who's

Whose is the form of the possessive case of the pronoun who which can act either as a relative pronoun, interrogative pronoun, or an interrogative adjective.

It was the man whose car I had seen there. (relative pronoun)

Whose is this? (interrogative pronoun)

Whose house is that? (interrogative adjective)


Who’s is a shortened form of who is or who has.

Who’s that man over there?

Who’s borrowed my pen?

He’s the man who’s responsible for passports.

The man who’s been going to the pool each morning is very fit.


See contractions 2; its / it’s.

word order

Languages differ in the way they arrange the words in a sentence. English has been described as an SVO (subject-verb-object) language. That is to say, in the typical English sentence the subject precedes its verb and the verb precedes its object.

The car hit the wall.

subject = the car, verb = hit, object = the wall


Many languages do not have this basic pattern. In Latin, for instance, many of the words announce whether they are the subject, the verb or the object by the telltale endings or inflections they carry. So the ordering of words in a Latin sentence is more variable.

Not all English sentences follow the SVO order. Some questions like ‘Will she?’ or ‘Aren’t they?’ clearly do not, and sometimes for emphasis, or following particular words like scarcely or hardly the pattern may be changed.

Scarcely a drop of water did she drink.

object = scarcely a drop of water, subject = she, verb = did drink